Farming can be a solitary experience where some people spend more time with plants and animals than people. But if you look closer, the food system is a web of personal relationships between people who are working toward common goals.
Many local collaborations can be traced back to ASAP’s Business of Farming conference. Held each February, the conference offers workshops for established and beginning farmers, networking opportunities, professional consulting, and Grower-Buyer meetings. These meetings are like speed dating for local sourcing, where buyers from grocers to chefs meet with farmers and food producers to find local products they’d like to carry.
Emily Copus will be participating in the Grower-Buyer meetings at this year’s virtual conference. She’s the founder of Carolina Flowers, a 4-acre flower farm in Madison County, North Carolina that she co-owns with her husband. Six years ago, she grew most of the flowers herself and crafted countless floral arrangements for weddings. Recently, she started hiring more employees on the farm and also opened Zadie’s Market, a grocery delivery service and storefront that offers local produce and food products.
“This is the year we’re really able to make the vision of careers in agriculture become a thing, which was sort of our mission from the beginning,” she says.
That mission of creating local jobs in agriculture is one of the reasons why Emily is participating in the Grower-Buyer meetings. This year, she’ll be on the buyer’s side, looking for farmers and food producers who can stock the shelves at Zadie’s Market and provide local options for delivery customers.
“If you have something that you want to grow and you don’t know if it will sell, talk to us about it. Let’s connect and make a plan. We are your people; we will buy your product,” she says.
She might also meet future employees and collaborators who can help her build a farm business that is sustainable for the planet and for communities.
“If you want to make a case for sustainable farming, you really have to employ people so that the system is bigger than just an individual and it can be resilient,” she says.
Starting out as a farmer gives Emily a unique perspective as a local food business owner. Farming taught her how to manage and maintain a real-time inventory of fresh products that come straight from the field. That’s one of the reasons why Zadie’s Market pays the farmers in full even if their perishable products don’t sell.
“We think that’s really important because we don’t want to leave the farmer holding the bag for issues that are really our responsibility like marketing and customer service and outreach. We consider this an ongoing process of investing in people,” she says. “We really want to work with people who are interested in moving more product because that’s what we’re good at. Not every farmer wants to be an e-commerce powerhouse. That’s our job.”
Another part of their job at Zadie’s Market is sharing the stories behind the food. At the conference, Emily wants to learn more about farmers’ backstories and what motivates them so she can share this information with customers.
“We want to learn farmers’ stories because that’s a big part of what our business does. All of our products get labeled with the farm name, and most of it gets labeled with the actual first name of the farmer who grew it. Anything about your story that we know, we pass that on to our customers because they really want to be part of something that’s authentic and real,” she says.
So far, customers have rallied behind Zadie’s market, in part because of the ways the business connects them with farmers.
“The majority of the money that you spend with us goes directly to the farmer. There’s no middleman, there’s no trucking company. It’s us and it’s the farmer, and the farmer is the bulk of that. So if you want to know that your dollars are going to work in the community, we can facilitate that for you,” she says.
Learn more about local food systems and this year’s Business of Farming Conference, which will be held virtually Feb. 25-27 at www.asapconnections.org
Aired: February 8, 2021